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Short-hopping ceiling lobs
How to play a lobber

 

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If I'm playing an opponent who hits a lot of consistent ceiling lobs, short hopping them becomes a big part of my game.

To short hop a ceiling ball, you must stand on the dotted line and watch the ball come off the opponent's racquet. As soon as the trajectory becomes evident (before the ball hits the ceiling) run forward immediately. If you hesitate, the ball will be too high to hit accurately. You don't have to be real fast, just don't hesitate. Don't guess, otherwise, if he hits the front wall or side wall first, you'll get caught out of position. Watch the ball, not where you want to hit to.

It works best when your opponent is caught with a difficult shot in his backhand corner, leaving him with no option but to hit a weak ceiling shot. Don't let him see you getting too forward, too early; wait until he's committed.

Try and hit the ball a foot or two off the floor with a sidearm motion and gently dink it to the front wall. If the ball is higher than two feet, you have to hit the ball downwards and use topspin to dink it gently into one of the corners. Top spin is not good from back court, because it drives the ball down into the floor before it makes it to the front wall, but from way up front court, there's less room for skipping and topspin makes the ball die immediately upon hitting the front wall.

It's easy to practice this yourself. Just stand on the dotted line, hit a ceiling ball, and run up and short hop it. If your shot bounces back to the service line where your opponent can get it, you're doing something wrong. Don't hit the ball too hard. You may not need to move your racquet at all, just let the force of the ball hitting your racquet carry it back to the front wall. Use your shoulders to guide it, not your wrists. In general the closer to the front wall you get, the straighter your wrist should be if control is what you're after.

There's several types of ceiling lobs to prepare for (and practice!)

1. Down the line (assume lob is on the left side of the court) - use your back hand and either hit a down the line dink or a pinch. If the ball is scraping the left side wall, you have to almost slide the edge of your racquet against the wall and severely raise it upwards when the ball hits it to create the top spin. Dinking down the line even works for doubles (one or two times only) because your opponent on the left who hit it, is too far back to get it, and your cross court opponent isn't thinking (yet) of running all the way across the court to get a dink along the left side wall. At first your cross court opponent in doubles runs up and sets up expecting a pinch that goes to the right.

2. On the left side of the court: use your forehand to left-wall/front-wall pinch it with top spin.

3. The ball unexpectedly bounces right at you, towards your face: bend your knees and push your racquet straight forward (you look like a beginner), hit the ball with a square racquet face, no spin, and dink it into the corner. You can't swing sideways anyway because the ball is coming right to the middle of your body. Normally, this shot gives you no power at all, but in this case, that's what we want, so use that wimpy technique to dink the ball softly.

4. The right side of the court: this shot is why you don't want to guess, but instead, turn around and watch the ball come off the opponent's racquet. Dink it along the right side wall. Usually the sequence goes like this, first you cut off the ceiling lob to the left, then opponent tries a lob to the right. Then he panics and doesn't know what to hit.

Soon the opponent is charging up to get your dinks as soon as he hits his ceiling lob. So next, practice running up to short hop the lob, then instead hit a wide angle pass.

Unfortunately, this can't go on forever because your back is towards your opponent and you have to guess, at the last second, if he's charging up or staying back. Now you can only do this occasionally when your opponent forgets or is too tired to charge forward.

What's the best defense against the ceiling ball shorthopper? (a) Make your ceiling ball hit the front wall first, instead of the ceiling first, which causes the ball to unexpectedly hit the floor much further back. (When your opponent does this, you have to stand further back to short hop it.) (b) Hit the ball extremely hard, close to a side wall that is furthest from your opponent without telegraphing what you're going to do. (c) Hit an around the world shot.

ADVANCED CEILING SHORTHOPPING

There's a few people that take this shot to an extreme, Keith Dann (from Sacramento) and I think Willie Tilton for example. They hit what I call a basketball shot by short hopping the ceiling ball close to the front wall and hitting down on it a such an angle that it hits the front wall, bounces once on the floor once very close to the front wall, goes over the opponent's head like a basketball, then dies before it hits the back wall. This shot is tough to handle because you don't have much time to get to it before its second bounce, like you do with a ceiling lob. Keith uses a pattern in doubles where he hits several of these basketball shots to drive his opponents back, then dinks the next shot catching them off guard.

Alvaro Beltran cuts off the ceiling lob with a powerful reverse pinch. Tried it ... it's too hard for me!

Anyway, cutting off a ceiling lob is a fun shot so give it a try. Like anything else, you get good at it and it becomes a high percentage shot. Not like the other way of dealing with a lob, raising your racquet 9 feet high from deep back court and trying to dink the lob backhanded into the corner!

There are a few people that cannot handle around the world shots. If the lobber's lobs are perfect, try seeing if an around the world shot makes his aim a little off. If yes, this will give you the setup you need. Some people can shorthop an around the world shot easily, so turn off the around the worlds immediately for them.

Finally, if a lobber drives you crazy, this is telling you that you need to learn to hit a decent kill or pass shot when the ball comes a few inches too high off the back wall.

Alex Glaros

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